Examining bean plants in a seed evaluation trial to identify lines with resistance to Sclerotium rolfsii Sacc. (Photo Credit: Amos Acur)Pamela Paparu is a Senior Scientist in Plant Pathology at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Uganda. She knows only too well what it takes for an African woman to feed her household. As a child growing up in rural Uganda, she saw the challenges, her mother and other women endured so as to feed
Pamela Paparu is a Senior Scientist in Plant Pathology at the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Uganda. She knows only too well what it takes for an African woman to feed her household. As a child growing up in rural Uganda, she saw the challenges, her mother and other women endured so as to feed their families from their smallholdings and meager resources. Paparu remembers spending all her holidays on the fields, substituting the pen for the hoe. Her deep-rooted appreciation and respect for the land and the toil that kept them fed saw Paparu study agricultural sciences. “Getting into agricultural research was my destiny. And it is a destiny that I don’t regret,” she says with conviction.
Paparu who was one of the first recipients of the AWARD fellowship back in 2008 is deeply driven by a desire to contribute to sustainably feeding her country’s current population. Her current research is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and focuses on increasing root-rot resistance in the common bean. Beans are an economically important crop in Uganda. It is a leading cash crop for the country and a source of food and income for many rural households. She is leading a team that is seeking to develop bean varieties that are resistant to Sclerotium root-rots. The Sclerotium root-rot was recently discovered in Uganda and is receiving renewed attention because of the magnitude of the economic losses it causes. The fungal disease, Sclerotium rolfsii Sacc, was previously thought insignificant relative to the other root-rot pathogens that attack beans but, recent research shows that this is the most devastating bean root-rot bacteria in Uganda.
Paparu’s research team has the task of characterizing the pathogen that causes this disease, identifying resistant seeds and ensuring that the improved seeds are grown in the farm. The outcomes of her research will be beneficial to all bean growing countries in the region and Central Africa. Tanzania and Uganda happen to be the leading producers of beans on the continent.
The work is currently at the development stage, with planned activities to demonstrate root-rot management practices in selected farms. Hopefully this will improve their management practices even as they await resistant varieties.
For Paparu’s project, the future holds several ‘firsts’ and the results being yielded so far are very positive.“We are extremely excited that we may become the first to sequence the S. rolfsii Sacc. genome, the first to identify a beanseed with resistance to S. rolfsii Sacc., the first to map S. rolfsii Sacc. resistance in common beans, and the first to breed a variety with resistance to S. rolfsii Sacc.!” enthuses Paparu.
"Household food security in Africa is a woman’s responsibility. If we can help women achieve increased bean yields, they will be able to ensure food security and a better livelihood for their households” says Paparu.
Acquiring firsts is not new to Paparu having been in the inaugural class of the fellowship. She credits the AWARD Fellowship with her professional success. “I was empowered through AWARD to become a skilled and competent scientist conducting cutting-edge research that is relevant to global agriculture. With the help of skills and networks developed during the AWARD Fellowship, I now participate in several research projects, with collaborations in the United Kingdom and USA,” she beams.
Now also serving as a mentor to newer AWARD fellows, she reflects on the careers of women scientists. Paparu highlights the importance of developing good support systems for women scientists: “It is because of a very good family support system and a gender-sensitive employer that I have managed to succeed thus far.”
Download: Pamela Paparu, 2008 AWARD Fellow, Kenya